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Robert Crosnoe, Chair CLA 3.306, Mailcode A1700, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-232-6300

Fall 2008

SOC 308 • Capital Punishment in America

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
46464 MWF
9:00 AM-10:00 AM
CPE 2.206

Course Description

Why does the United States continue to use the death penalty when nearly every other industrialized Western nation in the world has abolished its use? What explains the persistence of America's contentious commitment to capital punishment? These questions will guide our exploration of American capital punishment's past, present and future. Using various historical, legal and social perspectives, we will examine the shifting rationales and nature of contemporary death penalty debates; public opinion; racial disparities and the historical legacy of lynching; US Supreme Court decisions; its efficacy as a criminal punishment and its personal impacts; and contemporary problems with its current application.

Grading Policy

Exam 1 20%
Exam 2 20%
Individual project 20%
Group project 20%
Participation 20%


There is no formal text for the course. All required readings will be posted on Blackboard under Course Documents. All reading should be completed prior to class. Students will be required to purchase an i clicker from the University Co-op.

Sample Readings:
Smith, M. D., "Capital punishment in America," In J. F. Sheley (Ed.), Criminology: A Contemporary Handbook (3rd Ed.) (pp. 620-643), Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2000
Donohue, J. J. & Wolfers, J., "The death penalty: No evidence for deterrence," The Economists' Voice, 3(5), Article 3, 2006


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